Museums and mental illness

Working with in-patients in east Leeds


A novel initiative by Leeds Museums and Galleries’ education team, working with in-patients at a secure mental health unit in East Leeds has been having great results.

Since November 2015, we have been visiting the Newsam Centre at Seacroft Hospital, east Leeds. The centre provides services for people with a range of mental health issues requiring in-patient care. In our visits, we take a selection of objects on a theme such as Ancient Egypt, the Stone Age or Leeds history, and provide opportunities for participants to handle and talk about them.

We got such great feedback from working with patients at the centre’s general ward that doctors and nurses asked us to run a session with patients in Ward 2 – the Leeds Low Secure Service. These patients have significant mental illnesses whereby they form a risk to themselves or others.

We delivered our first session to Ward 2 in early October 2016. This followed some detailed discussion with staff of the unit about what would be safe and suitable objects to bring for an hour-long session about Ancient Egypt.

We were amazed at how well the session went and the feedback we got from both patients and staff. Attendance was high, and the ward staff told us they had never before seen such good levels of engagement with a session – engagement both with the objects and each other. Patient behaviour was also very good, even though many of them were experiencing conditions which often make their behaviour very challenging.

As a result, and with the active encouragement of staff at the centre, we are now planning a number of follow-up sessions. The scheme is still very much in its infancy, but we are very keen to evaluate how long the benefits of the sessions last and whether there is any beneficial cumulative impact for participants.